CoffeeBeer >> Double Shot Buzz >> Previous Coffee Columns >> 3 Cafes in Oakland

Back Buzz - March 26, 1999

[pumping heart] Cafe di Bartolo, 3310 Grand Avenue, Oakland, California

[pumping heart] Pasqua Coffee, 315 1/2 20th Street, Oakland, California

[pumping heart] Peet's Coffee, 3258 Lakeshore Avenue, Oakland, California

Since I flew down to Oakland, California last weekend for a few days I got to sample some of the local espresso cafes. On the first morning I quenched my early-morning caffeine craving at Cafe Di Bartolo, which is a very tall, thin cafe with a high exposed-wood ceiling, one white wall and the rest brick. The floor is brick, too, and the place is furnished with industrial chairs, simple yet coolly comfortable. Subtle jazz strains emanated from the speakers and a group of regulars filled the place. The cafe serves bagels and pastries, and for lunch they do pizza slices.

My double short cappuccino was served in a beautiful, if a bit large, deliciously rounded white cup. The foam was gorgeous, of a perfect texture with a handsome airbrushed brown ring around the edge. The shots were strong, vibrant, and roasty -- really not bad for what you might expect to get in Oakland. (Sorry, Oakland -- I'm just an arrogant snob from Seattle, okay?) Even the barista could easily have passed himself off as a hip young French barista, if he didn't seem such a serious young American barista: I believe it was the slick curly black hair, the starched white shirt, and the black thick-rimmed glasses. Yes, I could be in Paris easily, if only they offered sandwiches Camembert instead of bagels and pizza slices.

I made a brief stop on another morning at Pasqua Coffee in downtown Oakland, on 20th Street at Webster across from the landmark Kaiser building. Pasqua started in 1983 in San Francisco but now has stores all over the Bay Area. At this tiny downtown location, sort of a corporate-exec to-go espresso bar, there are three tiny tables inside and, oddly enough, no seating outside on the wide sidewalk under the cherry trees. Such a shame, because the cherry blossoms are lovely this time of year. My double short cappuccino was reasonably okay, but it's such a pity it was served in a styrofoam cup. Come on, folks! If you're going to use disposable cups only, you should be using paper, not styrofoam. Nobody should be forced to drink an espresso from a styrofoam cup, no matter what sort of sins have been committed. Oh, well; the scones were pretty good, anyway.

The original Peet's Coffee opened in Berkeley in 1966; at the moment there are 40 locations around the country, mostly in the Bay Area. The one I stopped at on Lakeshore Avenue is a tiny place with only four seats at a window counter and a bench on the side. My macchiato was decent enough, on the edge of being over-roasted like dark toast. Yes, Peet's is veering dangerously close to Starbucks' burnt beans. In fact, there's a Starbucks just a block away -- next to Noah's Bagels, naturally.

Peet's also sells scones, muffins, cookies, and the usual assortment of pastries. I can't say anything for the atmosphere -- in fact I can't say anything about the atmosphere because there's virtually none, except for the low-hanging lamps and ceiling fans and the fact that everything is dark brown -- a little on the over-roasted side, you could say. Yes, I imagine on a blustery winter day this place would be nice and toasty. (Sorry, I had to...)

There's an entertaining view out the window of the smokers on the al fresco benches. I guess according to California law it's still legal to smoke outside, although I imagine it's only a matter of time before smoking will be outlawed everywhere in California. Perhaps the only exception will be on isolated platforms erected on thin towers projecting 2,000 feet up into the sky. Yes, I can see it now: each tower will have elevator access, and there will be one located every four or five blocks. Eventually, as those remaining smokers in California -- the ones who haven't quit, moved to other states, or emigrated to Europe -- begin vanishing from the urban landscape of the sidewalks below, nonsmokers in search of more truly bohemian and intellectually inspiring hangouts will join the smokers on their aeries, and taverns and cocktail lounges will follow suit. And soon there will be an entirely separate culture suspended high in the air, where smokers and nonsmokers alike are welcome but acrophobes are discouraged.

Wow! All this from watching the crosswalk outside, not to mention the transfer of smokers' lights from one person to another...

Speaking of smokers I'm reminded of an e-mail exchange from two years ago with one of my Bay Area friends:

I'm not all that interested in the tobacco company lawsuits, but I couldn't help noticing this little article in this morning's Seattle Times:

"When [Attorney Stanley Rosenblatt] asked [James Morgan, President of Phillip Morris] if he believed cigarette smoking was addictive, Morgan replied, 'Pharmacologically, my answer is no. If they are behaviorally addictive or habit-forming, they are much more like caffeine or, in my case, Gummi Bears. I love Gummi Bears...and I want Gummi Bears and I like Gummi Bears and I eat Gummi Bears and I don't like it when I don't eat my Gummi Bears, but I'm certainly not addicted to them.'"

Perhaps we should start putting warning labels on Gummi Bears.

Do Gummi Bears cause cancer?

I could see Gummi Bears causing jaw cancer, if they rot out enough teeth and destroy enough gums and bone in the process. (Is that why they're called Gummi Bears?) It would be fun to see some top Harmony Foods executives (makers of Gummi Bears) brought up in front of the Supreme Court, wouldn't it? Their attorneys would probably argue that the right to rot out your teeth, gums, and jaw is a right protected by the Constitution.

Hmmm...maybe we'll start seeing billboards plastered with images of Joe Gummy, a toothless but really cool-looking camel with half his jaw missing. And he could be spluttering out the side of his remaining jaw, "Hey, kids! I know you want Gummi Bears and like Gummi Bears and eat Gummi Bears and you don't like it when you don't eat your Gummi Bears..." Hey, maybe I should go into advertising!

...and speaking of weekend flights, here's an e-mail exchange with my other Bay Area friend about so-called "frills":

Have you heard that, as a consequence of the Americans with Disabilities Act, airlines will be required to designate at least three rows as a "no-peanut zone" if a passenger notifies them of a peanut allergy in advance of a flight? How long must we wait until we have no-perfume and no-obnoxious-conversation zones?

Yes, I read that. Since many airlines have given up the sometimes lifesaving snack of peanuts in favor of those damn "lite" pretzel sticks or cheese bits, I now book all my short flights in living fear that there will be nothing nutritious served and I'll have to rely on a Bloody Mary to quell those raging hunger pangs which develop after waiting for the typically delayed flight to finally board...

So when are we going to have the option of No Boring Talkative Idiot flights? Or how about us window seat lovers being able to book our seat in a no-obese-sleeper-in-the-aisle-seat zone? What about no-screaming-baby zones, or no-hyperactive-kicking-children zones? And for those Monday and Friday flights, how about a special no-computer-sales-rep-with-pictures-of-his-four-kids zone?